The Brooklyn Rail

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Field Notes

Reading Ridgewood

A typical 1968 front page announcing a taxpayer group protesting against 'Anarchy teaching in schools
A typical 1968 front page announcing a taxpayer group protesting against 'Anarchy teaching in schools" with an anti-welfare op-ed and story about Vito Battista's Law and Order campaign.

It used to be you could travel to most any neighborhood in the city and find a newspaper that reflected the local flavor. Some of these still exist, though the majority are now owned by a handful of corporate chains. With a few exceptions, the content in Canarsie is little different from that in Coney Island, which is itself nearly the same as the content in Bay Ridge, and so on. Two decades ago, when I used to work in the industrial reaches of Maspeth, Queens I became fascinated with the Ridgewood Times, a local paper that mixed extreme-reactionary politics with neighborhood news. Years later, when researching a newspaper article on the anti-homeless shelter movement in Glendale, Queens, I began digging into the old microfilm in the Brooklyn and Queens library archives. In reels from the 1930s, I saw much of the rhetoric and ideology now associated with Trumpism, the same strains of thought that many New Yorkers view as a foreign aberration. Striking now-familiar notes about the loss of manufacturing, trade imbalances, and economic nationalism, the Ridgewood Times promoted law-and-order and austerity programs for decades. Advocating what it termed “aggressive citizenship,” the paper and the property owners groups it championed helped launch the anti-rent control and anti-busing movements as well as the political careers of some of the more conservative actors in New York politics.1

The Ridgewood Times, and the movements it gave succor to, became an obsession of mine. In the pre-pandemic months, I utilized what free time I had to return to the archives. I spent dozens of hours scanning issues from every decade of the (undigitized) newspaper, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. These are some of the things I learned.

The beginnings

Shortly after young George Schubel started the Ridgewood Times in 1908, the weekly paper hit its stride covering the area’s nascent civic organizations. In his 1913 Illustrated History of Greater Ridgewood, Schubel bragged that the area had “the largest number of these kind of organizations … In most cases, their birth was due to some needed improvement or to some grievance on the part of a number of taxpayers who came together, formed a representative body and launched their fight.”2 Some of these groups are still in existence and active in city politics. The Glendale Taxpayers Association (now the Glendale Property Owners Association) and the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, established in 1911 and 1931, respectively, still wield considerable clout.

These organizations were featured weekly in the pages of the Ridgewood Times. Readers were informed of the various groups’ efforts to procure parklands and the municipalization of the city’s water supply. One early effort consisted of attempts to obtain “a Union-Square-Ridgewood Subway as part of the city plan” (the city wound up approving a partial combination of subway and elevated lines). Schubel would expand into the emerging field of radio in 1920, founding one of New York City’s early stations, which he sold six years later to the Loew’s corporation.

Though Schubel prioritized the civic groups and elite men of commerce, a few labor leaders and socialist party politicians were profiled favorably in his history of the area. Ads for lectures on socialism ran on the front page, and events at the Labor Lyceum were featured in the paper’s Society column. Though the paper and the civic groups it promoted were male-dominated, Schubel did give some coverage to pro-suffrage viewpoints and allowed the local district office of the suffragist movement to meet in the Ridgewood Times building.3

The paper’s role as cheerleader for the civic organizations gained momentum in 1912 when headlines blared “STAND OR FALL TOGETHER,” with an appeal to small property owners to unite with business against taxation and the perceived ruin that would accompany a proposed widening of Myrtle Avenue. A political and stylistic tone that would be sustained for a century was established: “Do you know that if fifteen feet is cut off from the front of your building your business will be ruined? Do you realize that trade is killed whenever there is a street or a wide avenue?… You reader, whether man or woman, whether property owner or storekeeper, or ordinary citizen, if you believe in the rights of the people against the predatory corporations who are dictating the affairs of our city, if you believe that we should make this fight in dead earnest, if only to maintain the right of the common people” should “come to the Ridgewood Times building … to help make up an army of five thousand indignant and protesting citizens,” who would then storm city hall. (6/15/1912) The small property owners and local businesses were victorious: the widening of Myrtle Avenue was killed. The storming of city hall would be a common theme, again and again. Over the decades the same groups would use the same tactics to kill off public- and low-income housing, new schools, “forced busing,” rent control, the expansion of train and bus lines. Some of these same groups are still at it, fighting the placement of homeless shelters in their neighborhoods. And they still use a rhetoric of hard-working small property owners up against predatory corporations.

The paper’s toleration of radical left viewpoints dried up quickly as World War I began and Greater Ridgewood’s large German American population faced pressure to demonstrate its loyalty. In a 1914 editorial, Schubel (quoting a British diplomat) praised the “German people [who] stand for the efficiency, the cultures, and the manhood of the white race of Continental Europe.” But despite his nationalistic leanings toward Germany, he pivoted to support the US, hailing “the final world-triumph of American ideals and institutions.”4

The Times weathered the Great Depression with nominal support of business unionism and WPA programs balanced with steady editorials against taxation, Social Security, and labor militancy. (1/27/39) In the 1930s Ridgewood became the center of Nazi activity in New York City. The openly fascist “Friends of the New Germany” dressed in full Reich regalia and operated out of the neighborhood. The group held multiple mass meetings at Madison Square Garden. Anti-fascists from across the city descended on Ridgewood to disrupt the Nazi street pageants and meetings. While newspapers across the city ran daily headlines about the bloody street fights, the Times largely omitted mentions of the group.5 After several years of silence on the issue, short articles appeared in 1939 reporting that the more mainstream German American groups (Steuben Society, Roland German American Democratic Society) had finally denounced the Nazis. (3/3/39)6 The paper provided editorial space to groups like the Glendale America First Committee, but enthusiastically supported the US entry into WWII. (7/25/41)

Increased populist militancy and anticommunism

The conservative populism began moving from local issues like parks and potholes to a much broader focus. A March 31, 1939 front-page story reports groups of homeowners were poised for “a march on Washington” to storm hearings on the Home Owners Loan Corporation, an entity with a “policy of ruthlessly foreclosing its mortgages.” (3/31/39) Readers were also informed of taxpayer caravans to Albany to protest taxes.

The same year columnist Fredric Flack gave voice to the new ideology. Citing the past difficulty in establishing a “United Front,” or “super organization” of civic organizations, he pointed to a renewed vigor among the local groups in their “drive to reduce the 1939 State budget and to revise the pension systems of city employees.” The goal was “to push for lower taxes and less government.” Warning of competition from cheap Southern labor, Flack called for an alliance across class lines: “The tenant and the property owner both have a stake in the businesses that operate within our borders … [I]t is they who must join the fight to reduce taxation and they can best fight by joining those civic organizations.” (2/24/39) A year after the House Un-American Activities Committee was established, Flack smeared a city councilmember as a Communist for supporting the lifting of an embargo against the Spanish Republican government. Referring to himself as an “isolationist,” Flack went on to describe democracy in blood-and-soil terms, not as “a theory of philosophy,” but “a soil, the American soil, as a people, the American people, a government, the American government.” (2/3/39) Another columnist called to “eliminate everyone who preaches the overthrow of our American democracy.” (1/27/39)

In a portent of the paper’s 100-plus years of railing against graffiti and street art, a page-one story tells of a local city councilmember’s denunciation of subway murals painted with WPA funds. Claiming the idea was Moscow-inspired, the politician admitted: “anything that smacks of Communism is not pleasing to me.” (2/17/39)

As the national economy moved from the Depression to the post-war boom, the paper’s tone shifted to stronger calls against taxation. Front page stories reported on the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to reduce unemployment insurance payments. (3/2/50) The Times took on a new columnist, Dr. Charles Tonsor, former principal at Grover Cleveland High School (and later head of the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce). He would set a staunchly anti-Communist editorial tone for decades, railing against perceived Communists in the school system, the secular destruction of the US, and the unfair nature of international trade. Paper money, currency manipulation, “the flooding of American markets,” and the “Japs” were flogged weekly. Like Flack and other Times writers before him, Tonsor laid out an explicitly economic nationalist vision nearly identical to that later put forward by Pat Buchanan, and (even later) by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, et al.

Militant landlordism

In the late 1940s a landlord movement began to emerge in response to nascent urban renewal efforts. In 1949 the Times reported on a Glendale mass meeting in opposition to ballot referenda promoting increased public funds for public housing. The president of the Glendale Taxpayers Association announced: “The time has come to protect our homes and property.” In the adjacent column readers were informed of the upcoming “Women Hibernians’ Minstrel and Dance.” (10/27/49) The following year an editorial called for “aggressive citizenship” (a term coined by the Kiwanis International). This would be achieved through “strong civic organizations and chambers of commerce, not only to fight for improvement, but to oppose those ideas and projects that would take undue advantage of our people.” Vigilance would be needed against “the parasites who seek to gain from the efforts and sacrifices of others without doing anything themselves.” (2/16/50)

Origins of the anti-busing movement

When the Glendale Taxpayers Association learned of the city’s plan to bus Black and Latino students from Bed-Stuy to PS 91 in Glendale, the group activated its network of homeowners for mass meetings (at one point, the Taxpayers retained Joseph McCarthy lieutenant and eventual Trump lawyer Roy Cohn7). Weekly the Ridgewood Times exhorted readers to attend mass meetings and descend on the Board of Education. The students were eventually bused to Glendale, to be, as the Times wrote, “greeted by protesting, picketing parents.” (9/8/60) When the city attempted a more comprehensive busing plan in 1964, a pro-segregation resistance movement was already in place. The various Ridgewood-Glendale groups renamed themselves “Parents and Taxpayers” or PAT.8

The local PAT group was a direct offshoot of the property owners groups. Both Gloria McArdle of the Glendale Taxpayers Association and Rosemary Gunning of the Ridgewood Property Owners were official group leaders. The Glendale-Ridgewood PAT’s early momentum was boosted by its role in organizing a march of over 10,000 mothers over the Brooklyn Bridge on a snowy morning in March 1964. (3/19/64)

The PAT model was readily exported throughout the city and later the entire country, with chapters appearing in cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco and in smaller towns. The Glendale-Ridgewood group would help launch the Canarsie PAT, which would eventually lead a massive parent strike against that neighborhood’s schools.9 The group utilized tactics usually associated with the civil rights and labor movements, including pickets, boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of direct action.

The Ridgewood Times provides a unique view from inside the groups’ meetings. We learn that the largest-ever mass meeting held in the neighborhood up to that point was called by the Glendale Taxpayers Association in June 1959. The groups hadn’t yet honed their rhetoric to claim that they were motivated not by race, but by safety concerns for the bused children. At the meeting future senator Martin Knorr condemned “forced integration.” A Lutheran pastor proclaimed: “It is not right to bring people who have no respect for property or people into our area.” (6/11/59)

Crusaders against rent control

For all their zeal against “busing,” these groups had no problem storming Albany via bus caravans to protest rent control, such as the one chartered by the United Taxpayers and the Ridgewood and Glendale property owners groups in early 1961. (2/23/61) The elimination of rent control was a major concern of the Times and the property-owning groups throughout the next two decades. In 1968, at a Glendale Taxpayers meeting to oppose the construction of a subway line from JFK airport to Manhattan, the group announced efforts to pressure “local banks holding mortgages on properties in the area, to support property owners in regulating taxes and eliminating rent control.” (11/28/68) Throughout the 1960s weekly headlines alternated between calls to descend on Albany and city hall against the twin evils of rent control and busing.

The 1961 Zoning Resolution

The same anti-busing/anti-rent control forces were also behind a significant push to keep multifamily housing out of Western Queens. In early 1960, the property owners began mobilizing against the citywide rezoning slated for the following year. The city hadn’t undergone a major rezoning since 1916, and the Glendale-Ridgewood groups were alarmed by the specter of “apartment buildings several stories high and housing projects,” in the words of Rosemary Gunning, who was appointed “zoning chairman” of the Ridgewood property owners group. “Representatives of local banks, real estate firms, service and political clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, and business associations” were tapped to join the emerging coalition. (3/31/60) George McArdle (husband of Gloria McArdle) of the Glendale Taxpayers was also a key player in this fight. The groups mobilized, packing city planning hearings, and after months of agitating and multiple “harmonious and enlightening” meetings with city planning commissioners, the property owners and the Ridgewood Times embraced the new zoning passed in December of 1960. (9/22/60, 12/22/60) The 1961 zoning resolution limited the space where manufacturing was permitted and skewed heavily in favor of single-family homes and low-density apartment buildings (out of reach of much of the city’s poor and nonwhite population). Later in the decade, these groups would defeat the siting of a low-income housing project and a school, IS 349. (9/14/67, 2/8/68)

A 1967 front-page
A 1967 front-page "All Lives Matter" editorial calling for the shooting of rioters.

Legislative victories

In 1968, four leaders of the property owners movement Martin Knorr, John T. Flack, Rosemary Gunning, and Vito Battista were elected to the State Assembly and Senate.10 Knorr would sponsor a bill pushing to advance an anti-busing constitutional amendment in 1973.11 All four enjoyed the support of the Conservative Party, a political organization that grew out of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign (while he was trounced by Johnson, Goldwater carried Western Queens). They would also all vote for a 1971 vacancy decontrol bill that significantly weakened rent control.12

The liveliest of this crop of reactionary politicians was Vito Battista, founder of the United Taxpayers Party. The Brooklyn architect began appearing in the paper regularly at the end of the 1950s, when he urged Dwight Eisenhower to veto public housing legislation on the grounds that the “freeloading” program would “turn New York City into one big Red Chinese-style commune.” (6/25/59) MIT-educated Battista had a penchant for coining catchy, bombastic phrases he would employ in the service of his major issue: the abolition of rent control. The Times fervently reported Battista’s pickets of city hall and the mass meetings he organized. A typical Battistaism was: “We need no help from Mayor Wagner’s Commissars who are trying to take over private housing and set up a Sovietized New York City through the Urban Renewal Program.” (6/2/60)

Once in office, Rosemary Gunning pushed law and order and fiscal austerity to comical levels of cruelty. She was a leading opponent of a bill that would allow the children of welfare recipients to attend summer camp. (7/8/76) This sworn enemy of rent control and multifamily dwellings would become the head of the State Assembly’s housing committee.13

Shoot the looters/All lives matter rhetoric

The racial fears of the Times and the taxpayers grew less subtle as the ’60s progressed. The emergence of the Black Power movement and the rioting following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was met with weekly front-page editorials calling for the shooting of looters. Editor Dorsey Short would regularly call for the suspension of all social programs until rioting ended. Presaging the “All Lives Matter” trend by 50 years, he wheezed:

Now we are being told looters should not be shot at because the value of their lives is greater than that of the goods they steal. … What about the lives of victims shot in holdups? The lives of storekeepers who spent a lifetime building a business only to see it wrecked in a few moments. … And the lives of policemen, soldiers and civilians shot down by snipers? Do these lives count, or is it only the lives of looters and rioters that must be protected? (4/18/68)

Short would routinely blast anarchists, communists, Black people, and hippies. Right up to his death in 1976, his front-page editorials warning of communist infiltration would promote far-right groups including the Liberty Lobby and the World Anti Communist League.

The “Agony of Bushwick” era

In 1964, a front-page story on a “Move to prevent slums in Bushwick” tells of a committee of “a dozen Bushwick civic leaders,” meeting with “Department of Welfare officials … to discuss ways and means to prevent deterioration of the community.” (4/9/64) As the demographics of Bushwick became less white, the neighborhood was redlined, making it impossible for Black residents to get loans to purchase homes, and for existing white residents to finance repairs on their properties. Real estate speculators seized upon racial fears, engaging in rampant “blockbusting.” Slumlords who were able to collect full rents from the city would take in poor tenants and proceed to neglect their buildings. A 1968 story reports on a group of Bushwick residents who petitioned the city to erect a “ten foot gate type Cyclone fence” to protect against increasing crime. (7/25/68)

As white residents fled Bushwick and speculators gobbled up their properties, the neighborhood was wracked with arson, largely (but not exclusively) carried out by landlords looking for easy insurance payouts. Hundreds of fires consumed Bushwick monthly. When the neighborhood erupted into riots during the blackout of 1977, the Ridgewood Times responded with a seven-part series on the “Agony of Bushwick.” Written by publisher-editor Carl Clemens, writer Maureen Walthers, and local priest James Kelly, “Agony of Bushwick” chronicled the destruction of the neighborhood with a fascinating mix of empathy and racialist analysis. This presented a contrast from the days of calls to kill looters. “Agony of Bushwick” detailed the arson, lack of employment, disinvestment, redlining, and blockbusting along with the impact of “planned shrinkage” policies. A masterpiece of social dissolution, the series teeters between great compassion and misanthropy.

Written in prose pungent as a burning Myrtle Avenue, the series started by lamenting the loss of Bushwick’s old network of civic and taxpayers’ associations. Unlike the civic groups, the “welfare recipient didn’t have enough clout … it was a case of civic suicide.” Later, “Agony of Bushwick” tackled “institutional dislocation and its contribution to Bushwick’s severest problem—the housing question.” Progressive education, the city’s “acquiescence to [the] demands” of the Welfare Rights movement, slumlords, busing, redlining, real-estate speculators, blockbusting, and FHA scams were all savaged. In the midst of all this, the authors still managed to find “bright spots which prove the indomitability of the human spirit,” and saw a solution in neighborhood preservation, and “strong block associations and civic organizations.” They claimed that “[s]tability” would be “enhanced by home ownership, not by public housing.” Mortgage assistance was mentioned as a necessity, though homeownership wasn’t even a remote option for the majority of Bushwick residents. “Agony of Bushwick” warned: “unless the ills of the past are heeded, there is the danger that the rebuilding of Bushwick will be either a boondoggle for the speculators and unscrupulous developers, or a bureaucratic nightmare created by the City of New York.”14

Times editor Carl Clemens and writer Maureen Walthers would later be called to testify before a congressional committee on arson, where they presented their “Agony of Bushwick” thesis. Walthers did most of the talking. “Ethnic succession,” she declared, “must be natural and orderly to succeed. … Racial and social fears create an unhealthy climate for home ownership, which is the basic stability of any neighborhood.” Also present at the hearing was Rosemary Gunning, who concurred with Walthers’s assessment.15

Walthers takes the helm

Walthers was a fascinating character, a talented writer, once described by Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times as “a hard-boiled, wisecracking newsgal.” The former housewife wrote like she talked, with an abrupt outer-borough cadence.

Walthers rose from reporter to editor, buying the Ridgewood Times in the 1980s. Changing the paper’s name to the Times Newsweekly, she steered the operation through the Reagan years with a heavy focus on crime and quality-of-life issues. Anti-crack and angel dust ads began to appear. A typical week detailed local crime stories, balanced by the efforts of civic organizations to clean up graffiti. Graffiti was a constant topic in the Times Newsweekly. Its lingering presence on neighborhood streets was treated like a killer weed that, if not immediately eradicated, could engulf the city, bringing back the ’70s all over again. A weary crankiness seemed to power Walthers’s editorials. In response to “subway vigilante” Bernard Goetz’s 1984 shooting of four Black teens on the subway, the paper cast its lot with the shooter. “Every person who has ever been forced to suffer indignities while riding the subways has aligned themselves with the shooting.” (12/28/84)

A sense of defeat crept in after the LA Riots, when Walthers declared: “Lawlessness is normal. Disrespect is normal. Unemployment is normal. Welfare is normal. Murder is normal. Illiteracy is normal … feel free to add anything else.” (5/7/1992) The Ridgewood Times began as the voice of a community of property owners shaping the city they felt very much felt belonged to them. Now, as the Times Newsweekly, it seemed to be the voice of those who had hung on in the face of white flight. When Rudy Giuliani first ran against David Dinkins in the 1989 mayoral race, Walthers wrote that, no matter the mayor, unemployment and homelessness would continue to rise with the cost of living. An editorial suggested the election was “a choice between hanging and gassing.” (10/19/89) After losing the election, Giuliani increased his presence in neighborhoods like Ridgewood. He grew on Walthers, who gave him favorable coverage and ran his column during his second term.

The gay rights movement comes to town

Things changed in the 1990s. Scorched-earth school disciplinarian Howard Hurwitz would still rant about the “Black-Hispanic Cabal” attempting to take over the schools and call for the firing of gay teachers. (2/23/89) Amid the stories about the various civilian observation patrols and community protests against the scourge of topless bars, the paper began reporting on new forces encroaching on the political landscape. After Community School Board 24 members publicly rejected a curriculum that included lessons on gay rights, the Lesbian Avengers picketed board president Mary Cummins’s home. (4/1/93) In mid-April 1993, a coalition of gay and lesbian groups marched through Ridgewood in protest of the school board. “The 330 marchers got mostly mild responses from startled onlookers,” reporter Paul Toomey wrote, though they were also met by “local residents who tried to disrupt speakers by hurling obscenities and anti-gay remarks.” (4/22/93) Going back to the paper’s beginnings, these are the first instances I could find documenting coverage of protests by non-property owner groups in the area.

For all her toughness, Walthers was no fan of the end-welfare-as-we-know-it politics of the Clinton era. On the eve of the 1994 midterm election, she editorialized, “welfare is the replacement for the loss of manufacturing jobs.” She concluded that politicians “watched jobs slip away from this country, and for them to claim now they can throw people off welfare is an insult to the voter.” (10/6/94)

The new millennium and the post-9/11 years

As the new millennium hit, the front page of the Times Newsweekly began regularly featuring stories about local schoolchildren. The kids were increasingly Latino. The area was changing once again, and so was the Times. After 9/11, the paper wistfully editorialized, “The U.S. had no compunction during World War II in setting up internment camps for Japanese or German nationals. In today’s world, that would seem barbaric, but it certainly was effective in reassuring that the United States would not be attacked from within.” (9/20/01) With a large population of cops and firefighters, Greater Ridgewood was disproportionately hit by the 9/11 attacks. Pictures of missing neighborhood residents ran alongside news of massive 9/11 memorials. The gravity of the 9/11 attacks did not, however, slow the usual calls to deal with that other existential threat, the scourge of “single-family houses being converted into two-family residences.” (9/20/01) The paper chugged along with countless stories about every civic meeting in Western Queens, stories of residents fed up with pigeon droppings and graffiti. Editorials wondered whether the rapidly increasing homeless population was a result of immigration.

While there were other conservative papers in NYC, none were able to sustain their vigor or support for right wing political movements for a similar duration. Other papers with a conservative bent came and went, like the Catholic Tablet, the Glendale Register or the Howard Beach Forum. The Times was able to provide more than just politics—it covered all aspects of local community life in a way the others couldn’t.16

After holding out for years, the Ridgewood Times/Times Newsweekly met the same fate as most of New York City’s neighborhood papers. In 2015, Maureen Walthers, then 81, sold the paper to the Schneps Media Group, which owns dozens of newspapers and magazines including the bulk of local NYC papers. The corporate buyout brought a political liberalization. The new editors had a better ear for the changing community. When Maureen Walthers died in August of last year at age 86, the Times Newsweekly carried a long obituary. (9/3/2020) A few pages later a favorable story on a Black Lives Matter march across the Queensboro Bridge was followed by an unsigned editorial asserting that crime would be reduced through “ending inequality for all.” (The property owners groups still get coverage, though they no longer dominate the paper.)

A new day?

The same network that propelled earlier politicians like Rosemary Gunning and Martin Knorr still holds sway in Greater Ridgewood. Robert Holden, city council member for District 30 which comprises much of the area, spent 25 years as president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. Holden’s political career has been driven by opposition to graffiti, homeless shelters, and unyielding support for the NYPD (he recently introduced a bill that would overturn anti-chokehold legislation).

Raquel Namuche, who founded the Ridgewood Tenants Union (RTU) in 2014, has come up directly against the remnants of the old guard. Namuche and her fellow organizers have changed the dialogue in the area to the point where even the Ridgewood property owners group hosts tenant information sessions. “A few decades ago they were fighting against low-income housing,” Namuche says, noting the limits of groups that “aren’t organized for transformative change.” Namuche and her group have faced threats, verbal and physical. Members of the belligerent Glendale-Middle Village Coalition have counter-protested against the RTU. At one of the tenant group’s protests outside of a negligent landlord’s home, Namuche was harassed by coalition members who attempted to get her arrested. “The homeowners are only concerned with making sure their communities stay exactly the same way they are right now, without realizing that the demographics in this district are changing a lot,” Namuche tells me. The organizer’s lived experience speaks to the actual neighborhood, outside of the network of property owners (Greater Ridgewood is now 30 percent Latino; the number for Ridgewood proper is about 48 percent). Originally from Peru, Namuche came to the US at age seven, crossing the border with her mother. First settling in Jackson Heights, she has been a Ridgewood resident for 15 years. She explains that the current political representatives “see our communities as invisible. They don't see us. … A lot of the people that we've been working with don’t know who their electeds are.”

Namuche has no illusions about electoral politics, but she has seen Holden’s impact on the district, and is working to help Juan Ardilla, a former Brad Lander staffer, and first-generation American, oust Holden. “I'm not saying the only way you can change things is through politics,” Namuche says, “The only way we can change things is through collective power.” She sees the old network of civic organizations and people afraid of change as a real impediment. “This is the only reason Holden won … Because he played up to that base of people who really care about quality of life issues … who don't want homeless shelters in this district.” In what is going to be a daunting fight, both the NYC Central Labor Council and the American Federation of Teachers have endorsed Holden. When I spoke with Namuche, she was in the process of composing an anti-Holden newspaper editorial. It was slated to run in the Ridgewood Times.

  1. A note on methodology: All citations included in parens refer directly to the Ridgewood Times/Times Newsweekly. This paper isn’t digitized, and no index exists. When possible, I viewed reels of the RT for entire years (I did this for the periods when Ridgewood was a capital of NYC Nazi activity in the mid-30s, the peak years of the anti-busing movement in the 60s, and later, in the fiscal-crisis 70s). For other years, I would hone-in on key events in NYC and national history.
  2. Illustrated history of Greater Ridgewood, together with brief sketches of its industries, organizations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men, George Schubel, Ridgewood Times Printing and Publishing Company, NY, 1913. Accessible via:
  3. The Woman Voter, the Woman Suffrage Party of New York, July 1913, p 35. Accessible at:
  4. Reprinted in the Literary Digest, August 29. 1914. Accessible at:
  5. The Ridgewood-based, Long Island Daily Advocate covered the street clashes daily.
  6. The German-American fraternal organization, the Steuben society at first embraced Hitler. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a number of articles from the period documenting Steuben’s flirtations with fascism on their website:
  7. Delay is granted in pupil transfer fight, Williamsburg News, September 11, 1954.
  8. Matthew Delmont in his essential history Why Busing Failed, explains: “By calling themselves Parents and Taxpayers, these white protestors made an implicit claim that they occupied a higher level of citizenship than black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers who were also parents and taxpayers.” Why Busing Failed, Matthew Delmont, University of California Press, 2016.
  9. George McArdle of the Glendale Taxpayers and Glendale PAT was present as a speaker at one of the initial meetings of the Canarsie PAT. Canarsie Courier, February 27, 1964.
  10. Batista ran the United Taxpayers Party, Knorr was the former head of the property owners umbrella group, the Associated Organizations. Gunning was an official with the Ridgewood group and Flack was the former president of the Liberty Park Homeowners Association.
  11. “Anti-Busing Bill Stayed in Albany,” New York Times, May 12, 1973.
  12. On Goldwater support in Queens: New York Times, October 22, 1972; On vacancy decontrol: East Village Other, June 15. 1971.
  13. In 1974 a coalition from the Metropolitan Council on Housing and various labor and community groups occupied Gunning’s Albany office in response to her intransigence on tenant issues. Daily World, January 11, 1974.
  14. All quotes in this paragraph are taken from the Agony of Bushwick, which ran in the paper from October through December 1977, and was later compiled by the editors into pamphlet form. Elizabeth Matassa discusses the Agony of Bushwick in her excellent 2013 PhD dissertation. From the Cracks in the Sidewalks of N.Y.C.: The Embodied Production of Urban
  15. Arson Problems in New York City, Hearing Before a Subcommittee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Ninety-Sixth Congress, US Government Printing Office, 1979. Accessible at:,
  16. The Canarsie Courier, for example, gave regular column space to reports from the local anti-busing groups. These screeds would often be immediately followed by pro-integration commentary from members of the local public housing tenants association. The Ridgewood Times made no similar efforts to provide the perspective of the people who could benefit from such policies.


Rico Cleffi

Rico Cleffi is based in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he edits Frequency and Amplitude ( a website dealing with the world of NYC-area analog radio. He would like to thank the very helpful and patient librarians at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History and the Archives at the Queens Central Library. Readers interested in viewing many of the sources used in the research for this article are invited to visit


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